Naming the Children

“What do you think we should name him?” asks my friend, six months pregnant and expecting a baby boy. My first impulse is to respond with the usual, “José,” but her scowl makes me try to think of something less traditional. Then I run through the full catalog, including Mateo, Lázaro or Fabián, but none please the expectant mother. If this were happening twenty years ago, the baby would have to carry around a “Y”, like many of those born in the seventies and eighties. However, the exotic habit of using the penultimate letter of the alphabet seems to have been overcome.

For some decades, Cubans named their children with a freedom they could not experience in other spheres in life. The grayness that the ration market and state control spread over our existence vanished when you inscribed your newborn’s name in the civil register. The parents played with the language and created real tongue twisters, such as the famous baseball player’s name: “Vicyohandri.” A few even came up with the unusual composition “Yesdasí,” a mix of the English, Russian and Spanish words for “yes.”

Fortunately, in recent years calmer winds have been blowing when it comes time to name a child. An entire generation that had been named as if it were a laboratory experiment, now prefers to go back to the old ways. So, after several days, my friend called to tell me her decision: the baby will be named Juan Carlos. On the other end of the line, I breathed a sigh if relief. Sanity has returned to the act of naming children.


15 thoughts on “Naming the Children

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  2. Interesting statistical information on Names for example from

    Fidel name had a pick in popularity in 1959 and 60s in the US.
    nowadays about 200 people get named Fidel per year! in the US.

    Unfortunately wolfram alpha statistical info is limited to US only.

    I look also for Che (The nick name for you know who)

    Surprise to find that some people actually named their kids Che!

    It seem to have become popular from 1968 to 1977 with an expected total population of 554 people in the US named Che !! :-)

  3. WASHINGTON POST: Cuba political prisoner tally drops in 2009
    By Jeff FranksReuters Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 10:30 AM

    HAVANA (Reuters) – “Cuba ended 2009 with slightly fewer political prisoners but continues to have the worst human rights in the Western Hemisphere with no improvement in sight, a rights group said on Tuesday.

    The Cuban Commission on Human Rights said there were 201 dissidents behind bars, down from 208 at mid-year, but it charged that the communist government had stepped up harassment of opponents with brief detentions and physical intimidation.

    The independent commission said Cuba “continues to have the worst record on fundamental rights in the Western Hemisphere,” with nothing “to indicate the current leaders are inclined to initiate reforms.”

    “Unless a miracle happens, the situation of civil rights, politics and economics in Cuba will continue being the same or worse throughout 2010,” the commission said in its year-end report.”


    “Among those briefly detained were dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, known internationally for her critical reports on daily life in Cuba, and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar.

    The commission said the government increased physical and verbal intimidation of dissidents in the last months of 2009.

    Commission leader Elizardo Sanchez, a former political prisoner, cited an attack against the opposition group Ladies in White as they staged a small march on December 10, United Nations Human Rights Day.

    “The general picture for 2009 is very negative, with a worsening toward the end of the year,” he told Reuters.”

  4. Yeap, Iain under his father Fidel guidance Chavez has proceeded to the Cubanization of Venezuela! It may be too late. On the other hand if it is the people’s will they could still get him out. The most important thing for them is to unite under one opposition.

    Cuban opposition there is so much and so fracture. That has always been the problem. The only thing I think will be able to unite Cubans is uniting under some simple principle like Freedom.

    If one thing we can learn from Russia and eastern Europe communist failure is that is never too late. When it is the will of the people. People just have to come that realization on their own.

  5. I’m afraid there’s no chance of a further democratic election in Venezuela (relevant here, in the sense that the country is following precisely the route of expropriation and centralization that brought ruin to Cuba) as Chávez has seized control of the electoral machinery (CNE). As pointed out in El Universal:

    “Among the set of laws noted by the Observatorio Parlamentario as oriented towards political control, there is, indeed, the Law on Electoral Processes, widely discussed and barely understood.

    “It was approved at midnight in marathon-like sessions. It changes the electoral system involving proportional representation and replaces it with one of majorities, contravening Articles 63 and 136 of the Constitution. It manages to implement an exclusion system which will preclude bodies, such as the National Assembly, from being composed in a plural manner.”

    Note also that some “conquests” about the practical issue of elections were not included. “The law removed things that used to be clear, stripped citizen’s participation and gives more discretionary power to the CNE” (National Electoral Council).

    Another variable of political control is set through the economic control; hence the Decentralization Law, which deprived the locales from the control of ports, airports and freeways, running against the Constitution. The same applies to the Budget Law for 2010, where oil prices are estimated at USD 40, thus deducting funds from the constitutional allocation to locales. “It is a very good assembled frame which goes beyond deputies’ abilities. This is done with Cuban advice,” said Vecchio.”

  6. “And I’ll tell you quite frankly, where there’s liberty, that’s where your home is.”

    AUSTIN (KXAN) TV Station:
    Exchanging a PhD for freedom: Cuban immigrant embraces custodial job

    “At the age of 65, Rafael Garcia roams the halls of Westlake High School, broom in hand. That’s a far cry from the life he envisioned growing up in Cuba. ”
    “”The ideas of my household, of my father and mother were transferred to me,” Rafael Garcia said. “But at that time, I had a lot of active participation in the church. I went to church; I participated in activities and I went to mass and was involved in the church.”

    That behavior earned a young Garcia a trip to rural work camp.

    “We cut cane,” he said. “We cleaned the agricultural areas and all the the camp work, all the work that an agricultural laborer does, very hard work, you work morning to night.”

    The experience, which went on for two-and-a-half years, failed to make a dent in Garcia’s church-going ways.”

    “When an agreement was reached between Cuba and the United States, allowing those who had been sent to work camps to leave the island nation for America, Garcia jumped at the chance.

    At 7:00 AM, April 2, 1996, he gathered his wife and his 88-year-old mother and boarded a plane. The trip included stops in Cancun, Miami and Dallas before the Cubans landed at the airport in Austin.

    The family knew no one in their new town, but Garcia quickly enrolled in Austin Community College. He learned English, but in order to work in his chosen field, he would need a thorough-going command of the language. The family needed money, though, and Garcia needed a job.

    He found one at Goodwill Industries and later he and Victoria both found work at Westlake High School as custodians. They raised a son who in December earned his own Ph.D. in entomology. They also raised a happy life. From a home in South Austin, they relish that life.

    “No one made us come; we wanted to come,” Rafael Garcia said. “So then we had to overcome all the situations in front of us. I’m very happy and I’m very grateful to the government to be here.

    “And I’ll tell you quite frankly, where there’s liberty, that’s where your home is.” ”

  7. I think people should be free to name their children whatever they like.
    I hear many instances of people naming kids Fidel, Leonid (Like Leonid Brezhnev Russian premier) or even Lenin. Never heard of Stalin or Hitler but heard of Himler!

    Some others use for names American product or combinations of american words something like

    Yusimi If you pronounced it in Spanish is equivalent to say “You see me”!

    I never understood the obsession with names starting with Y. That should be a good topic of sociological studies.

    Some parents will also stick to begin their children’s name with a letter. etc.

    Ali I think is nice for people to stay true to their heritage. Still for many Afro Cubans will be hard since many have lost touch with their cultural roots. The same will be true for Cuban American children if they loose touch with Cuba they will be totally american. A name does not really makes a person. An individual is influence more by Culture, language and religion. Individuals of the same race but different cultures could act completely differently.

    For example many Chinese here in american adopt american first names because their Chinese names may be very hard to pronounce for american speakers. The same maybe true for true African names in Spanish so that was probably the reason for changing names to Spanish ones.

  8. Greetings and to whom this matter may concern;

    First and foremost, I’d like to disseminate my view with the readers especially to those of African descent, throughout the island of Cuba. But also, as they are scattered throughout the archipelagos of the Caribbean, and as in the countries of Central & South America.

    As in a country, such as Cuba, that has been plagued with political
    controversy & sometime turmoil, the strain of an identity crisis among the new genaration has lead to having, and naming their children with names “that don’t have, nor carry a significant meaning as an attribute of someone historical or relating with their heritage.” Black children or parents of Cuba, in particular, have lost touch with their Africanness, as they have named their children with names that doesn’t have a significance of themselves as African descendants. Many have, and many will continued naming their children with Spanish names (which is European), and referred to themselves as either, “Afro Cuban/Cubano, Afro Latin/Latino. or, just plain “Latino/Hispano,” simply because they Spanish! When has a language becomes someones race, nationality or race? And just as sad, they may perhaps give names that they have created out of what comes to their mind.

    Yes, I am of African descend, born on the largest island of the Caribbean (do you which one) and I have named all of my children with non-European names, as myself who has a non-European name except for my last name, not to negate the territoty of my birth.

    Yes, please discontinue naming your child, the extension of yourselve, the future of your family as well as your heritage with names that ‘don’t carry anykind of significance. i’d like to hear from you or anyone in response to my position.
    You may write me:

    Thank you, mucho gracias!!

  9. I suspect that those 10,000 may possibly be vocal opponents to Chavez. So in a way they have a cover up so that they can eliminate the opposition little by little until they own the whole country and are left with the people that are too afraid.

    Do you think in the next elections the opposition will be able to defeat Chavez?

  10. Julio, I’m afraid the slaughter in Venezuela is already the highest of any country not officially at war. The government puts violent deaths last year at around 10,000 (they’re a bit vague on this as on most else)but academics put it at 15,000. Caracas is now the second most dangerous city in the world (after somewhere in Mexico where a drug-war is going on) and makes Baghdad look like Geneva. According to Chávez, it’s all down to the Colombians. In fact, his recent purchases has left the place replete with assault-rifles, which he has handed out to his supporters and the consequent reign of terror is quite deliberate.

    Orangeburg Times Democrat Raul Castro turns into big brother Fidel
    Monday, January 18, 2010

    “At least 40 Cuban advocates of human rights have been locked up during the last three years on the charge of being “dangerous.” And Human Rights Watch documented “more than 40 cases under Raul Castro in which Cuba imprisoned people for ‘dangerousness’ because they sought to do things like staging marches or organizing independent labor unions” (New York Times, Nov. 19).”

    “This customary censorship by the dictatorship has not prevented Afro-Cubans from hearing of it and being encouraged by this long-delayed support from these black Americans. And although the mainstream American media have paid little attention to their pre-emancipation proclamation, the 60 signers “are considering forming a group to follow this (Jim Crow) situation via international human rights and civil rights organizations” (Radio Marti —, Dec. 30).”

    “A particularly prominent American signer, political scientist Ron Walters — in “Racist or Revolutionary: Cuba’s Identity is at Stake” ( — declares:

    “Cuba’s national identity is precisely what is at stake. The government cannot claim to be truly revolutionary and progressive while tolerating white elitism in its leadership and the oppression of its blackest citizens.” He quotes Dr. Carlos Moore, a longtime battler against racism in Cuba:”

    “Entering what is now a worldwide conversation about the bigotry of the Castro brothers is a hero of freedom, Vaclav Havel, whose Velvet Revolution helped drive the Russian dictatorship out of Czechoslovakia. Author of “The Power of the Powerless,” he has won the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a letter to Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, which I’ve not seen mentioned in the American press, Havel says of the Cuban resistance against the Castros:

    “The Cuban opposition has my sympathies since it suffers totalitarian forms of power and ideology similar to those that I knew in the former Czechoslovakia.” Then Havel went on to target passive accomplices of endemic Cuban racism: “I am very worried about the lack of willingness of the European Union to express itself clearly and draw conclusions. Even though the practices and treacheries of totalitarian regimes have been described and documented thousands of times, their lies are still underestimated, omitted or even accepted by international organizations.”

  12. Iain Venezuela have been going for some time in slow process of Cubanization. Little by little they will be all as poor as Cubans are and as dependent from the Chavez paternalistic regime. Once everyone is dependent the there will be no opposition to talk about. Only they few brave souls that dare.

    One thing Chavez has not done yet I think is the equivalent to the time of terror in Cuba, the first years of the revolution when they murder many innocent people.

  13. ¿After the esteemed monarch who famously told Chávez to “shut up”?
    Speaking of whom, I see Hugo has expropriated the French/Colombian supermarket chain EXITO. I remember them fondly from my time in Colombia and I expect the Venezuelans will miss the service they provided. He has grabbed a load of merchandise but, of course, this will not be replenished – once again, “Welcome to Cuba”!

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